Philippines tops 2011 list of countries hit by disasters

Posted on January 28, 2012

THE PHILIPPINES topped the list of countries hit by the most natural disasters in 2011, a United Nations (UN) official said Thursday, while citing the need for more defined policies on urban development in disaster-prone areas in the country.

In a press conference, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström, said a total of 33 natural disasters struck the country last year.

Other disaster-ridden countries in 2011 were China with 21 disasters; the United States with 19; India and Indonesia, 11; and Mexico, 10, Ms. Wahlström said, citing data from a recent report by the UN and the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

She also noted that tropical storm Sendong (international name: Washi), which hit Mindanao in December, was last year’s deadliest tropical storm, killing 1,403 people. It was also the second deadliest natural disaster in 2011, following only the earthquake-tsunami in Japan, which caused 19,846 deaths.

Having visited the Sendong-devasted cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, Ms. Wahlström urged government to "focus on the critical importance of resilient urban development."

"[W]e are growing our economic assets, population, social assets, cultural assets in the most exposed and vulnerable areas," Ms. Wahlström said, adding that this trend has been observed not only in the Philippines but also in other countries.

Ms. Wahlström said that while the world’s population increased by 114% over the past 30 years, the population in areas that are highly prone to cyclones, typhoons and tropical storms grew by 195%.

While noting the important role of local governments, especially in establishing early warning systems, Ms. Wahlström added: "It’s clear that there is a need for guidance from the [central government] here because there is a collision of interests: economic development must be weighed against people’s safety."

Globally, Ms. Wahlström said "the number, impact and frequency of disasters are increasing in rich and poor countries."

"[The] richest countries are most economically affected but the ones that really accumulate risk are middle-income countries like the Philippines because [there is] very rapid economic growth and the institutional capacity to manage resources are not developing at the same pace," Ms. she said. -- Kim Arveen M. Patria